A St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) club is inspiring students and staff to give back to local communities with a growing new initiative.
Members of the Blue Beetles, a student-driven club that supports mental well-being through healthy living and socialization, started the ‘Blue Monday Initiative.’ Through a food drive challenge, the club aims to raise awareness of the needs of the community’s less fortunate and how everyone can help.
“The goals of the programme are for students to come to know and learn about ways they can offer support in their local communities as well as to think about the needs of others,” says Stephanie De Santis, teacher and faculty moderator of the Blue Beetles club at SMCS. “Food banks are even more of a necessity due to the financial impacts of COVID.”
“Last year before the pandemic hit, we had plans for a charitable movie night and a walkathon to benefit the homeless,” says Adam Sinapi, Grade 12 student and one of the student moderators of the Blue Monday Initiative. Grade 12 students, Zachary Zanatta, and Riley Stefan are also student moderators of the initiative.
“Once we returned to school at the beginning of this school year, we knew we wanted to continue with our plans for charitable work, but we had a new cause in mind as we had observed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the population,” he says.
The student moderators kicked off the Blue Monday Initiative by purchasing food for local food banks, taking a photo of themselves as they dropped it off, posting the photo and drop-off location in the initiative’s Edsby group, and then nominating fellow students and staff to join in.
“The students wanted to make a difference and came to me for guidance,” says De Santis. “I was inspired by their desire to give back and helped them to develop a plan that worked within the parameters of our COVID restrictions.”
To comply with added restrictions brought about by the pandemic, students and staff who participate must ensure they are physically distancing, wearing masks at all times, and remaining outside of donation centres unless using donation boxes in the grocery store they are already in. They must also ensure they’re not making extra trips to the store for donation items or carpooling with those outside their household.
“We wanted to figure out a way to continue our work and mission as Christians and safely give back to the community in the time of COVID,” says De Santis.
The club chose the ‘Blue Monday’ name and theme as it has become commonly known as the most depressing day of the year.
“In our research, we discovered that January was a time when food banks needed a lot of support,” says Zanatta. “Normally food drives are held around holidays like Christmas and Easter, but January was an outlier month. It’s an extremely harsh time of the year with freezing temperatures and many people forget that people really need help during this difficult time.”
“This led us to choose a time after Christmas as this is when they arguably need the food the most as they have just used most of what they had in the past holiday season,” adds Sinapi.
The Blue Monday Edsby group is flooded with posts from students, teachers, and staff members sharing their good deeds and new photos are still coming in.
“It has been incredible to see how quickly this initiative took off and it was amazing to see both teachers and students start to participate so quickly,” says Sinapi. “I think that many of the students enjoyed being able to nominate teachers as well, which gave them a greater incentive to participate.”
As an additional incentive, SMCS has granted the club permission to award both House points as well as community and Christian service hours for their participation.
“We also tried to make the entire process as streamlined as possible to make it easy to participate. My fellow co-organizers and I researched food drop-off locations around the entire GTA, stretching from Burlington to Vaughan to Ajax so that anyone who lived anywhere near the GTA could participate,” he says. “This list was then posted on the Blue Monday Initiative group for students to reference before making a donation. We also constructed a list of some of the most needed food items in these food banks to give students and teachers a good guideline for what items to donate.”
“We hope that our classmates realize how easy it can be to make an impact. All it takes are a few hours out of one’s day and you can be changing someone’s life for the better. We also hope they can see the many possibilities there are to help others,” says Zanatta. “All it took for Riley, Adam, and I was an idea, then we just brought it to administration and the idea became a reality. We hope that others can take up this mantle and take the chance to start their own initiatives.”